Independence Pass dubbed scenic " though unofficially |

Independence Pass dubbed scenic " though unofficially

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Times Staff Writer

INDEPENDENCE PASS ” When the gates to Independence Pass reopen to traffic Thursday, complacent locals and wide-eyed tourists will once again venture over the winding 12,095-foot pass that crosses the Continental Divide between Twin Lakes and Aspen.

The uninitiated will stop to snap photos of magnificent vistas, peer over drop-offs as they edge to the inward side of the pavement, and crawl through narrow sections where Highway 82 looks like it could safely accommodate a single vehicle at a time.

It might be a motorist’s most memorable drive, or the scariest ” but don’t call it scenic.

The Top of the Rockies National Scenic Byway takes motorists through some of the most extraordinary scenery in Colorado, but it stops short of Independence Pass.

A sign on Highway 82, on the western edge of Twin Lakes, lets pass-bound motorists know the scenic byway is ending ” arguably before the most scenic stretch.

That the designated byway ends before the highway winds its way west over the pass and down into Aspen has long been a source of consternation for some locals.

“It’s one of my pet peeves, driving through Twin Lakes and seeing the sign, ‘Scenic Byway Ends,'” said Randy Ready, Aspen’s assistant city manager.

Local officials occasionally discuss doing something about it.

They will so again on Thursday, when the Elected Officials Transportation Committee convenes in Aspen.

The EOTC consists of elected representatives from Aspen, Snowmass Village and Pitkin County.

As a collective group, they’ll be asked to support an application to extend the Top of the Rockies byway over Independence Pass ” an initiative the Independence Pass Foundation is expected to take forward, Ready said.

It has been a topic of discussion before, but there were reservations.

Some suggested the designation would only lure unsuspecting flatlanders into a white-knuckle drive, while others have voiced concerns about increased traffic and detrimental impacts to the sensitive, high-altitude environment at the top of the pass.

Independence Pass Foundation representatives were lukewarm about seeking the designation when it was last under discussion, more than a year ago, but may be more enthusiastic now, Ready said.

The foundation has long spearheaded efforts to revegetate the scars from the cutting of the road over the pass, and there is funding available that could help in that effort through the National Scenic Byways Program, which is part of the U.S. Department of Transportation/Federal Highway Administration.

The U.S. secretary of transportation designates National Scenic Byways.

There are 10 such byways in Colorado.

Currently, the Top of the Rockies scenic drive starts at Twin Lakes on one end and Minturn or Copper Mountain on the other. Motorists can travel over Fremont Pass between Copper and Leadville on Highway 91, between Minturn and Leadville over Tennessee Pass on Highway 24, and take in the section between Leadville and Twin Lakes on highways 24 and 82.

The Colorado Department of Transportation plans to open the gates to Independence Pass at 2 p.m. on Thursday, weather permitting.

The pass, east of Aspen, is closed during the winter months.

Spring snowstorms could slow traffic at times, CDOT advises.

Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is

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